Pink eye could be symptom of COVID-19, American Academy of Ophthalmology warns vision care providers

A new advisory from the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) suggests that conjunctivitis, also commonly known as pink eye, could be an additional symptom of COVID-19. 

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The AAO is urging eye care specialists to look out for patients with pink eye who also exhibit symptoms commonly found in people infected with the novel coronavirus. 

The AAO said the virus has been observed to cause a mild form of pink eye in a small percentage of cases, according to a statement by the organization aimed at presenting new information specifically for ophthalmologists during the coronavirus outbreak.

For most people, the novel coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause severe symptoms like pneumonia.

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A study published in the Journal of Medical Virology said that one patient among a group of 30 who were hospitalized with COVID-19 in China had conjunctivitis.

According to the study, researchers were finding evidence of SARS‐CoV‐2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in the tears of patients with novel coronavirus who also had contracted conjunctivitis. 

Slit lamp examination

REGENSBURG, GERMANY - NOVEMBER 15: Slit lamp examination on November 15, 2012 in Regensburg, Germany. (Photo by Isa Foltin/Getty Images)

While the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have not yet confirmed pink eye as an additional symptom of COVID-19, the AAO has released a series of guidelines for eye care professionals to follow to avoid the spread of COVID-19, including covering the mouth, eyes and nose when treating patients with pink eye. 

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Because the organization says that pink eye can spread from the secretions in a patient’s eye, and since studies suggest that COVID-19 has been found within those secretions, it is critical that eye doctors and vision care providers take extra precautions with patients with conjunctivitis.